Danielle Bett: Scotland’s Jewish Gathering

Scotland’s Jewish Gathering

The JLC was delighted to play a role in the unique Jewish Gathering in Edinburgh over the weekend of 26th to 28th October. Around 160 Jewish people from all over Scotland – from the Western Isles and the Grampians in the north to Galloway in the south came together for a programme that included traditional Shabbat meals, inspiring speakers, music, discussion – and of course a whisky-flavoured tisch.

John Danzig of the Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation, who chaired the organising committee, commented that the event had exceeded expectation and “captured interest in a way we had not imagined.” People from the Orthodox, Reform, and Liberal communities attended. There were opportunities to form new friendships, discuss existing challenges and think of new ways we can work together as a community across Scotland.

The first guest speaker, at the Friday night dinner, was Board of Deputies vice-president Edwin Shuker, who spoke emotionally about how he and his family had fled from persecution in Baghdad just before his bar mitzvah, and his gratitude that he now lives in a country where the Jewish community is able to flourish. UJS campaigns officer Daniel Kosky also delivered an upbeat assessment of Jewish life on campus. After separate Orthodox and Reform Shabbat services, we came together for kiddush.

Giffnock’s Rabbi Moshe Rubin spoke stirringly about hospitality, likening the Edinburgh shul’s four corner entrances with Abraham’s tent, which was open on all four sides, and during Shabbat lunch, Lindsay Simmonds of the London School of Jewish Studies spoke about Jewish women leaders from the Torah to the present day.

After a candle-lit musical Havdalah led by Student Chaplain Yossi Bodenheim, we had a brainstorming session on how to tackle the Community’s demographic decline, promote younger people into leadership, and grow Jewish Scotland. We were then joined for a musical soiree led by Gica Loening on fiddle, Phil Alexander on accordion, and Dan Abrahams on guitar, with Yiddish songs by Sukkat Shalom’s Mark Solomon, Howard Brodie, and Sam Gaus.

We were extremely saddened to hear of the atrocities in Pittsburgh. Participants in the Gathering recited psalms and prayers for the victims, and we were heartened by the messages of solidarity we received from across Scotland.

The Scottish Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf, who spoke at Sunday lunch, expressed his and the Scottish Government’s sympathy and solidarity both with the victims and with Jewish people throughout the world who now felt more vulnerable. He spoke movingly about his own experience of discrimination growing up as a Muslim in Glasgow, adding that his father used to speak about our Jewish neighbours as being our cousins. He reiterated the Scottish Government’s commitment to tackling hate crime and promoting good community relations: "In Scotland we will continue to work together to tackle prejudice and build the society we want to be, where each person, every family, and all communities can flourish."

The weekend was an overall success, with a warm and welcoming atmosphere, and the Jewish Leadership Council look forward to supporting future events in Scotland. We will continue our close work with Jewish representative bodies in Scotland, including the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities and the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council.